Keith Gaskin has won the Columbus mayoral election, according to unofficial totals.
The longtime Columbus resident, who currently works as executive director for the Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science Foundation, will take office July 1.
“We were beginning to reach out to some of the folks at City Hall to begin the transition,” he told The Dispatch Tuesday. “We’ve already had some folks reaching out to us to start moving toward a seamless transition. I haven’t spoken to the mayor yet, but look forward to having that conversation.”
Gaskin edged out incumbent mayor Robert Smith, a Democrat, by a 2,908-2,884 margin, after election officials counted the final 18 ballots Tuesday afternoon, which broke 17-1 for Smith.
That included 12 accepted mail-in absentee ballots received since election day, and six affidavits that were on hold because the voters had also requested a mail-in absentee but instead voted in-person June 8. Four absentees were not accepted.
The vote will be certified this morning.
Gaskin said he remained confident throughout the week of tallying up the votes.
“It’s been different, but you know there are a lot of elections that are close today,” he told The Dispatch. “I felt confident throughout the process, felt like we had run a really good campaign and that the numbers were in our favor. I appreciate the process they had to go through to make sure all the votes were counted and I’m glad they did that.”
Prior to Tuesday’s count, Gaskin led Smith by 40 votes after election officials processed 158 affidavit ballots on Thursday. At the time, City Registrar Brenda Williams said there were up to 53 outstanding mail-in absentee ballots.
In order for the absentee ballots to be processed, they had to be postmarked by election day and arrive at the registrar’s office by Tuesday.
Smith leaves office having served as mayor for 15 years. He was first elected in 2006 following the departure of former mayor Jeffrey Rupp. Prior to serving as mayor, he was Ward 1 councilman for five years.
In a prepared statement to The Dispatch, Smith thanked his supporters and the more than 200 city employees for their work.
“I want to thank the citizens for their assistance and support during the time I have served as Mayor,” he said in the statement. “I have always respected the will of the voters and will continue to do so. I love this city and wish nothing but success to everyone.
“To the City of Columbus employees, I want to thank all 267 of you for your hard work, dedication, and professionalism for the past 20 years,” he continued. “I ask you to support and work hard for the new administration of our city. You are dedicated professionals working every day to make our city better, and I thank you. I will miss working with you to face the challenges of our city and wish you great success.”
In an official statement released Tuesday evening, Gaskin thanked his supporters and Smith for his 15 years leading the city. He promised to “tirelessly” pursue his goals of improving quality of life, ensuring public safety, maintaining infrastructure and helping strengthen local schools.
“I want you to know my door will always be open,” he wrote. “If it is in my power to help this city and its citizens succeed, I will not hesitate to act.”